The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Forest Service: Controlled Burns Underway
By Dan Craft
THE MORNING NEWS
FAYETTEVILLE -- When conditions are right for fires to spread, local officials warn residents against burning.
The U.S. Forest Service, on the other hand, lights up.
Benton and Washington counties are under Red Flag burn warnings, one step short of an outright burn ban. That's mostly because of dry vegetation, said John Jenkins, Washington County Fire Marshal.
That same dryness, though, makes for great conditions for prescribed burns in the Ozark-St. Francis and Ouachita national forests, said Glen Fortenberry, fire team manager for the U.S. Forest Service.
"January's not all that productive normally, but it's been dryer this year than most, and conditions are right for the kind of controlled fire we want," Fortenberry said. "We've stepped up our burning because of that, but they're calling for rain over the next week, so that could end for the month."
The Forest Service plans to burn between 60,000 and 70,000 acres in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest this year, and another 100,000 to 140,000 acres in the Ouachita National Forest, Fortenberry said. The burns are part of the Forest Service's management plan for the forests.
The Forest Service plans to burn 18,893 acres this year in the Boston Mountain Ranger District, which includes Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Madison and Washington counties.
The Arkansas Forestry Commission, which also lights prescribed fires, did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
The Forest Service would be lighting more fires right now if they had additional helicopters available, Fortenberry said. Many larger burns are lit by dropping incendiary balls from above.
"We didn't have any choppers under contract because we didn't anticipate conditions being this good," Fortenberry said. "Until the private contracts come up in late February, we've only got one regional helicopter available."
What the Forest Service considers good burning conditions, Jenkins considers dangerous for residents.
"The contradiction is that they start burning just as we're telling people not to burn anything," Jenkins said. "Those guys are trained professionals. We strongly advise others not to burn until we get some moisture."
Both Benton and Washington counties could be under a burn ban by early next week unless there is significant rainfall, said Jenkins and Will Hanna, the Benton County fire marshal.
Madison and Carroll counties are not under burn bans, but all the counties surrounding Northwest Arkansas have prohibited outdoor burning.
AT A GLANCE
• Red Flag Warning: Discourages outdoor burning. A Red Flag issue is only good for a 24-hour period and must be renewed on a day-by-day basis contingent upon conditions.
• Burn Ban: A burn ban is a prohibition of any kind of outside burning for a period of 60 days from the day the ban is issued or until lifted by the county judge. Open burning during a ban is considered extremely dangerous to people, buildings, trees and grasslands and violations are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.
Information about prescribed burns planned or underway is available on the Web.
U.S. Forest Service fires
Arkansas Forestry Commission burns
County Burn bBans